Monday, January 23, 2012

SAFL Roundup: How to justify

Much like the very concept of SAFL, I'm stealing this idea directly from Space Station Mir. For those who may have forgotten (due to my disappointingly sporadic updates regarding this "project"), SAFL (Science and Fantasy Literature) seeks to name 20 powerhouse sci-fi and fantasy books that deserve to be ranked as straight-up Literature. I was naive at first, convinced that I'd be able to name twenty such books easily, without too much effort.

I was wrong. What I took on as a slight, light challenge, turned into an almost vicious determination to find books that qualify. My goals shifted as the project grew - I decided to minimize the number of young adult or kids books to be included in the list, I decided to try to find as many original proposals as possible, and to pick books that could be universally viewed as worthy recipients of the "Literature" stamp.

When I started seeking out SAFL, I was more open to including young adult or kids books in my list. Seeing as A Wrinkle in Time and The Giver are the first books that come to mind when I think of quality science fiction that has stood the test of time, these both made the early cut. The fact that both books are geared towards children and helped shape my perception of literature and science fiction in particular is only an asset, in my mind. The two books are intelligent, entertaining, well-written and truly timeless.

Among the adult books, though, there's a slight divide regarding my own definition of SAFL. On the one hand I have straight-up science fiction - books that undoubtedly belong to that genre but transcend it due to higher quality or classic status. These are books like Arthur C. Clarke's Childhood's End or Stanislaw Lem's excellent Solaris. On the other end there are books that incorporate fantasy or sci-fi within their more standard stories, books that perhaps have an easier time appealing to audiences unused to sci-fi and fantasy. Here I recommended One Hundred Years of Solitude (literature by anyone's measure, fantasy by mine) and the sadly underrated The Day Lasts More than a Thousand Years. And then Flatland just lives in a world of its own.

In the space of a year, I have managed to name and justify only seven books that I feel belong to the Literature camp. But there are a lot more, I'm just not posting about them. Some, it's true, don't fully deserve to be called literature, but are worth discussing for their shuffles between the two worlds. Others are classics I greatly enjoyed, but read so long ago I feel uncomfortable writing about them now that most of the details have faded from memory (Dune and The Lord of the Rings come to mind...). Furthermore, it's easy to notice my personal skew towards science fiction as opposed to fantasy, something both unintentional and misleading.

I'd like to fix these problems. I'm still searching for twenty SAFL titles, still searching for books that maybe don't get the readership they deserve because of their genre, still looking for books that incorporate science fiction or fantasy into an otherwise "literary" story, still looking for sci-fi and fantasy that makes my mind bend in a way only quality literature can. I just need to make a point to discuss my findings a bit more periodically.


  1. Interesting post! Are you including books that already are considered literature by most -- for example, Atwood's The Handmaids Tale, Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, or Orwell's 1984? It seems to me there is some, though not enough, science fiction and fantasy that has broken the barrier. I was recently looking at the list of Newbery award winners, and was surprised how many of them (like Wrinkle in Time) were fantasy or science fiction. This is a subject I've been interested in for a while.

  2. Cool discussion!
    I think it starts with what we consider to be literature, no?

    For my two cents, I put William Gibson's Neuromancer, Toni Morrison's Beloved (it's a ghost story), Iain M. Banks Culture novels (oh, pick one... Consider Phelbas is my favorite), Steven Brust's Jhereg, Arthur C. Clarke's 2001, Douglas Adams' Hitchiker, and most recently, Nnedi Okorafor's Who Fears Death in my personal definition of Literature.

    Why? Hurmmm.... I'm not a "literary" person so bear with me. They are enduring, in that future generations can still relate to the issues and characters; they push boundaries of comfort for the reader, the writing is unique to each (I mean that only *that* author could have written *that* book), and they ask questions about what it means to be human.


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